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It is a truth universally acknowledged that wrestling games aren't very good games. None of them are ever going to be in contention for any game of the year awards. The phrase 'wrestling game' may well conjure up a very specific image of glitchy gameplay, hilarious collision detection and questionable character modelling. They're a hard sell to gamers. Not quite sports games and not quite fighting games, it's not easy to see the appeal.
That said, there is a certain kind of person who'll happily spend a significant amount of time choosing which of 11 possible Spinebusters best suits the move set of the big hoss brawler they're designing in the character creator. (Full disclosure: 7 minutes, and Spinebuster 8.) Without the pick-up-and-play vibe of FIFA 15 or developer 2K's own NBA 2K15, WWE 2K15 is very much made for that kind of person.
The best and worst thing that can be said for WWE 2K15 is that it's a wrestling game, but under 2K's stewardship, it's one of the better wrestling games to grace consoles in a long while.
The game controls quite well once you wrap your head around everything you can do. Sadly, that's not the easiest process as there's just so much to take in with regard to button combos, positional and context sensitive moves and assorted new mechanics.
If you do manage to grapple with the learning curve, counter-attack prompts are easy to hit and you can use specific moves reliably, but it never feels totally intuitive. WWE 2K15 is nowhere near as glitchy or buggy as some previous wrestling games, but there's still a fair bit of ghosting to get into position to hit some moves, and it's not as responsive as you might like. I rarely found myself doing something I didn't mean to do, but there were plenty of occasions when there was a delay between a button press and the corresponding action.
The game isn't shy about loading screens. Get ready for a lot of them. While the loading screens are understandable, they're a little more frustrating for the soundtrack (curated by WWE's own John Cena) playing on a loop while you're not in a match. Get ready for a lot of that, too.
Luckily, the game sounds great when you're actually in a match. The crowd give nice cues to your performance, and in addition to motion capture on the hundreds of moves available, sound recording was also done. To get that powerslam on to the mat sounding just right. WWE 2K15 also has the WWE commentary teams calling each match. With 30 hours of dialogue per commentator dynamically dropped in during matches, it's a nice touch, but repetition is inevitable.
There are 25 slots for custom characters on the PS4/Xbox One version, and for male wrestlers only. Apart from the custom characters, the roster has over 60 WWE wrestlers (ladies included) to choose from.
Character creation is fairly in depth, and because of the graphics updates custom wrestlers won't look out of place alongside the existing roster. The face and body customisation options are quite detailed, and it's easy to get custom wrestlers looking just right.
In addition to physical appearance, in-ring and entrance attire also gets a fair bit of attention (gotta get that merchandise looking good). Like most character creators, set aside a good hour to play around with it -- especially because the constant loading screens are more punishing here than anywhere else in the game. One specific option from previous games in the series that was sorely missed was the option to import custom theme music. Here's hoping it returns somewhere down the line.
Customising a move-set is incredibly daunting. There are thousands of options to choose from, and despite a handy graphic showing what body part the move targets, a short animation showing it in action and a useful filtering system, be prepared to spend no small amount of time going through it all.
Wrestling is fake. Sorry if I ruined any childhoods there. What WWE 2K15 actually does very well, better than any other wrestling game I've played, is make that part of gameplay. It's with a bit of a nod and a wink, but 2K have made a great game about the wrestling business.
Outside of one-off exhibition matches, WWE 2K15 has three main game modes.
Firstly, the 2K Showcase mode provides a pair of campaign-style storylines, taking players through overarching storylines from WWE history. The two storylines, the first being John Cena and CM Punk's rivarly, the second being Triple H and Shawn Michael's, use almost documentary-style footage from the matches, the original promo packages and commentary to dress up the experience of playing a piece of WWE history.
The results are all predetermined, and players automatically take control of the winner when a match starts, even swapping back and forth between the same characters. It's not enough to win the match though -- to fully complete the Showcases (and unlock all the goodies the game mode provides), players need to line up specific signatures moves and show-stopping spots at certain points in the match before they get the 3-count for victory.
Secondly there's WWE Universe, which is a micromanager's dream. You can change the active rosters for every WWE program (and yes, there's more than Monday Night Raw), pick wrestlers to enter into rivalries, set up an indie darling for a dream title run, even book entire storylines. Control the WWE Universe, rather than one wrestler on a quest for glory. Interestingly, players can play this mode solo or with friends, free to jump in on any scheduled match as they come up. But it's just as possible to play through without ever fighting a match, simulating results if you don't want to play them out manually.
Finally, there's the big draw card of WWE 2K15 -- the new career mode, exclusive to PS4 and Xbox One. After designing a custom wrestler in the character creator, you'll cut your teeth in the developmental NXT franchise. Build up a following you'll be promoted to the main roster. Your work as a face (good guy) or heel (bad guy) puts you through a few different feuds depending on your alignment, eventually leading you to a shot at winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
This is where that 'wrestling is fake' thing really comes to the fore. How do you model a 15-year career in a pretend sport? WWE 2K15's rather clever answer is to make wins and losses less relevant to your popularity and growth than the quality of the match.
Win or lose, you'll get points to upgrade your character based on how good the match was, taking into account variety, memorable moments, use of signature moves and dramatic back-and-forth with your opponent. Obviously you'll want to pull out all the stops for a title match, but generally it does more for your career to lose a five-star, edge-of-your-seat slugfest than win a one-star squash match in a couple of minutes.
The skill points earned can be used to upgrade stats and unlock special skills outside your normal move-set (like suicide dives over the top rope) that in turn let you put on better and better matches. As you unlock more abilities and staying power, the element of theatricality and performance in career mode matches really shines through. After a while, you'll find yourself controlling the momentum of matches, often taking a few hits on purpose to chase five-star match ratings. It does a great job of leaving you feeling like a veteran in the ring.
It's not all cage matches and title shots, though. Like a bona fide WWE midcarder, be prepared for a lot of generic matches and 'We've got nothing special for you this week' messages from management bogging things down. Once that slow burn pays off and you do finally win the gold, the career mode also comes to an abrupt and slightly unsatisfying end.
If you ever played a wrestling game before, you'll know what you'll know what to expect from WWE 2K15. It's one of the better examples of the formula, but it's a far cry from greatness. Shout outs like the NXT Takeover achievement or trophy -- earned by beating top dog John Cena as an NXT up-and-comer -- are nice nods for the fanbase, and it's a game built for them.
Make no mistake, there are issues present, and removal of features from previous iterations make the lack of polish less forgiveable than it would be otherwise. The game does some clever things, but enjoying them requires turning a blind eye to many of the flaws. Wrestling fans will enjoy WWE 2K15, but it's because of a deep respect for a chokeslam through a table than it is the game itself.